I returned from India a few weeks ago now and am finally fully back on Midwestern time…and diet.
For those that don’t know, my oldest daughter Abigail and I were in India for about ten days at the end of October through the beginning of November. One of the nonprofit boards that I serve on is a ministry called Serving Alongside. Serving Alongside is a supporting nonprofit for emerging Asian leaders engaging in church leadership development, especially in India. Manohar James, who is on the High Point staff team, is the executive director of Serving Alongside and a ministry in India called Redeem India. I serve as the president of Serving Alongside.
Part of my responsibilities as president is to go to our ministries in India to see them firsthand, to oversee their administrative and financial workings, and to do training with Indian pastors. This last trip we went to four locations and had more than 1,100 participants. Tom Flaherty, the pastor at City Church, also came as part of the teaching team. It’s not a glamorous trip: switching hotels most nights, eating food unfamiliar to your digestive system, sweating your way through pretty hot days, and trying to remain relatively unseen to a political climate in which we are unwelcome. But the effect of the work is profound. All pastors are in need of encouragement and further training. However, the pastors that we reach usually have no biblical training, and are basically making up pastoral ministry as they go along. They may have had some kind of mentor, but that mentor often had received no training themselves. The result, as I have heard from Indian Christians, is real weakness in the spiritual leadership of the church, especially in any area requiring training.
What we deliver is eight modular seminary courses that we believe are a basic training for pastoral ministry. These are each delivered in two day seminars. The goal is to have the seminars in each state of India, which has 25 states. This is mainly because most Indian states each have a different main state language. This means that the resources that we use and the teaching that we offer has to be translated into many languages, since we move among multiple regional locations.
Yet with all these difficulties and more, the hunger we find in pastors for encouragement and training draws them from everywhere. The content we offer them can be demanding and sometimes difficult for them to accept, because it is outside of what is normal (according to what is familiar to them) in the church. This is why we keep our teaching rooted directly in the Bible. When we are able to show that our teaching is the proper understanding of numerous Bible passages and is in keeping with the gospel, pastors overwhelmingly embrace the education we offer.
Although we are still sorting through the many evaluation forms, the trend seems to say that people were very encouraged by our most recent meetings. In most locations, we are seeing a groundswell of serious pastors who want to grow and meet the present moment emerging in India. It is a moment of great economic and educational transformation. It is a time in which government is increasingly condoning persecution, but this is also a time of profound opportunity.
I want to especially thank the church for making it possible for me to bring my daughter Abigail. Although Abby had to raise her support like anyone else, the church donated to her fundraising through the Global Missions Team. Additionally, many people worked hard to make it possible for me to go on this trip without any more added stress than was necessary. I imagine most people hardly knew that I was gone, and yet I am hoping that this experience was transformative to Abby in many ways. She says it was, and I trust the work of God in her. It’s easy to forget how hard it is to learn to trust God and walk with him in your teenage years. It’s hard to find your security in God at the very moment you feel most insecure in the world. But I think this trip helped: travel tends to help teenagers, and trips like this all the more. She also got to spend time with Tom, who was like a spiritual grandfather to her. Abby doesn’t have any believing grandfathers, and so spending time with Tom, Manohar, and myself on this trip was like hanging out with your dad, your little-bit-crazy grandfather, and your cool Indian uncle all at once.
In all, this trip was another great experience in India. We delivered vital ministry to pastors who greatly appreciated it. I believe that this work will effect fruit in hundreds of churches throughout the country. I spent time investing in an important relationship with Tom. We do a lot of work together between our churches and the Christian schools, and getting to know him on a deeper level is critical and strategic to God’s work in Madison. I had the privilege to observe Manohar’s diligence in his work in India. He works very hard to provide great training and also to be a careful steward over the funds given for this ministry. And lastly, I was able to spend precious time with my daughter. For all these things, I thank God. He truly gives back more and abundantly all of the things that we have given up in his service. We only need eyes to see.